Kerner Report Analysis

At Issue (Representations of Race in American Literature)

The Kerner Report was a formal attempt to explain one of the greatest explosions of urban racial violence in the history of the United States. The report, the product of a commission appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, blamed pervasive racist attitudes and practices for the riots in the nation’s cities.

Beginning in 1963, the United States experienced an unprecedented number of urban racial disorders. In 1967 alone, more than one hundred U.S. cities exploded in episodes of violence and looting. In November, 1967, President Johnson appointed the Kerner Commission (formally known as the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders), headed by Governor Otto Kerner of Illinois, to conduct an investigation to determine exactly what had happened and why and to make recommendations to solve the problem.

The commission reported that the basic cause of the urban disorders was white racism and that white, moderate, responsible America was where the responsibility for the riots ultimately lay. It had conducted detailed case studies of cities where violence had erupted and found that the riots had not been caused by any single factor or precipitating incident and were not the result of an organized plan or conspiracy. Its report stated that “the single overriding cause of rioting in the cities was not any one thing commonly adduced—unemployment, lack of education, poverty, exploitation—but that it was all of those things and more, expressed in the insidious and pervasive white sense of the inferiority of black men.” The commission emphasized that the source of the problems was the very structure of American society; it did not seek explanations in the psychology of individuals. The report pointed out, “What white Americans have never fully understood—but what the Negro can never forget—is that...

(The entire section is 750 words.)